The Vancouver Canucks have hit a bump in the road. Well, at least that is what it looks like for now. The Canucks have lost back-to-back games for the first time in over a month. They looked gassed in a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames and sloppy in a 4-3 home loss to the Seattle Kraken. (Could this be, dare I say it, the start of regression?) One positive from those games was Nils Höglander‘s improvement in his on-ice play.
Nils Höglander’s Improvement
The 2019 second-round pick by the Canucks made his debut in the 2020-21 season. That was a terrible season for the Canucks but Höglander was a bright spot. That year he managed 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points in 56 games in the Scotia North Division. That is still his career high.
The following two seasons were tough for him. In 2021-22, he had a decent start to the season despite the Canucks struggling out of the gate. Things changed when the Canucks replaced head coach Travis Green with Bruce Boudreau.
Boudreau was not impressed with Höglander’s all-around game, especially in the defensive zone. Höglander struggled without the puck in 2021-22 and things did not get better in 2022-23. After 25 games, where he only managed two goals and six assists, the Canucks sent him down to the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks.
The 22-year-old had a decent stint in Abbotsford. In 45 regular season games, he managed 14 goals and 18 points. That was followed by three goals and three assists in six AHL playoff games.
Höglander is a player who brings some skill and tenacity and can be aggressive on the forecheck. Despite being in the bottom six and healthy scratched twice this season by head coach Rick Tocchet, it is safe to say Höglander has improved.
The best example showing how he has improved is this shift against the Edmonton Oilers from earlier this month. He was constantly batting with Mattias Ekholm and made life difficult for the Oilers defenceman. Höglander just didn’t know when to quit, he was like the energizer bunny.
— Lachlan Irvine (@LachInTheCrease) November 7, 2023
What Höglander is Bringing
At his best, this is who Höglander is: a forward who brings high energy and work rate and battles for the puck. You can tell he is more confident out on the ice. Last season and even the season before that, there wasn’t this much effort and confidence. It seems the demotion to the AHL last season and Tocchet’s tough love and accountability approach lit a fire under him.
Höglander is on a team-friendly 1.1 million dollar contract for this season and next. He is on pace for 35 points which would be a career high.
It is also worth mentioning that he scored in the games against Calgary and Seattle. Höglander did a good job finding his way to the net for the goal against Seattle and it was he that started the play with the pass to Tyler Myers. Unfortunately, it was too little and too late. He nearly tied the game up after the ensuing face-off but shot it too high.
— Lachlan Irvine (@LachInTheCrease) November 19, 2023
Höglander Deserves More Ice Time
Höglander has been on the fourth line with Sam Lafferty and Anthony Beauvillier lately. Out of the three of them, it is safe to say he’s been the best.
But with the way he has been playing, he deserves to be moved up in the lineup and given some power play time. Höglander has averaged 10:32 total ice time per game. However, he’s been making the most of his limited ice time. Oh, and he should never be a healthy scratch ever again.
Right now, Andrei Kuzmenko has had a tough time finding the scoresheet. Perhaps, it is time to put Höglander with Elias Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev (who has looked solid since he returned to the lineup) in place of Kuzmenko. Höglander has been putting in the work all season and deserves a chance to showcase his feisty forechecking.
But whether he gets a promotion or not, it is clear that Höglander is much better than the last two seasons. He is earning Tocchet’s trust and, maybe soon, that trust might be rewarded.
Main Photo Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports